Applicability of the Lobbying Act to Grass-roots Communications
Bulletin current to and last amended on
The reporting of lobbying activities is intended to be comprehensive and transparent. Canadians should know who communicates with public office holders and which interests they represent.
Paid lobbying through grass-roots communication may require registration under the Lobbying Act, even if there is no related direct lobbying.
This bulletin explains the Commissioner's interpretation of "grass-roots communication" (commonly referred to as "grass-roots lobbying") and that individuals paid for their significant involvement in grass-roots communication campaigns may be have to be registered, even if their activities or calls to action do not include direct communication with public office holders.
"Grass-roots communication", also referred to as grass-roots lobbying, is defined in paragraph 5(2)(j) of the Lobbying Act as:
Any appeals to members of the public through the mass media or by direct communication that seek to persuade those members of the public to communicate directly with a public office holder in an attempt to place pressure on the public office holder to endorse a particular opinion.
"Registrable topics" for grass-roots lobbying include:
- the development of any legislative proposal by the Government of Canada or by a member of the Senate or the House of Commons;
- the introduction of any Bill or resolution in either House of Parliament or the passage, defeat or amendment of any Bill or resolution that is before either House of Parliament;
- the making or amendment of any regulation as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Statutory Instruments Act;
- the development or amendment of any policy or program of the Government of Canada;
- the awarding of any grant, contribution or other financial benefit by or on behalf of Her Majesty in right of Canada; or
- the awarding of any contract by or on behalf of Her Majesty in right of Canada (consultant lobbyists only)
Grass-roots lobbying occurs when individuals, for payment, appeal to the public to communicate with public office holders about a registrable topic on behalf of a client or employer. The appeal to the public may include but is not limited to:
- letter and electronic messaging campaigns
- social media and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube, etc.
Significant involvement in grass-roots lobbying
Significant involvement in grass-roots lobbying is determined by the type and extent of the activities undertaken, as well as by the visibility of individuals in the lobbying campaign.
The Commissioner is of the opinion that any combination of strategic and operational activities constitutes significant involvement in grass-roots lobbying and requires registration.
Strategic activities in the context of grass-roots lobbying may include but are not limited to:
- approving elements of a grass-roots lobbying campaign
- providing advice about a grass-roots lobbying campaign
- undertaking research and analysis for a grass-roots lobbying campaign
- drafting messages for a grass-roots lobbying campaign
- preparing content and materials for a grass-roots lobbying campaign
Operational activities in the context of grass-roots lobbying may include but are not limited to:
- disseminating content and materials (e.g. delivering printed documents, hosting websites)
- interacting with members of the public (e.g. answering telephones calls, replying to correspondence, responding to online comments, making presentations)
- day-to-day management of a grass-roots lobbying campaign
Application to consultant lobbyists
An individual who undertakes any combination of strategic and operational activities in grass-roots lobbying, for payment, on behalf of a client, with respect to a registrable topic, is required to register as a consultant lobbyist.
Application to in-house lobbyists
The most senior officer of an organization or corporation should consider the time spent by paid employees on grass-roots lobbying activities when determining whether registration is required. This includes but is not limited to time spent by employees on research, analysis, preparation, and approval of grass-roots lobbying campaigns.
Registration for in-house lobbying is required when lobbying activities undertaken by paid employees of organizations or corporations, including grass-roots lobbying, constitutes a significant part of the duties of one employee or would constitute a significant part of the duties of one employee if they were performed by one employee.
Application to former designated public office holders subject to the five-year post-employment prohibition on lobbying
Former designated public office holders subject to the five-year prohibition should always exercise caution regarding lobbying activities.
The Commissioner is of the opinion that former designated public office holders subject to the five-year prohibition may not interact directly with members of the public in the context of grass-roots lobbying. Former designated public office holders subject to the five-year prohibition may participate in strategic activities in the context of grass-roots lobbying.
For more information, please contact:
Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada
Karen E. Shepherd
Commissioner of Lobbying